October 11, 1998

By Mark Lindquist

LOVE IS A RACKET
by John Ridley

John Ridley’s crime-noir first novel, ”Stray Dogs,” was made into the Oliver Stone movie ”U-Turn.” This may explain why Ridley’s second novel, LOVE IS A RACKET (Knopf, $24), blends elements of the noir novel with the Hollywood novel. True to the first genre, the book’s hero, a hard-drinking con man named Jeffty Kittridge, owes money to Dumas, a bad guy with a deceptively soft voice who just might kill him. True to the second, Jeffty is also a hard-drinking, burned-out screenwriter already being slowly killed by ”the gulag L.A.” Enter Mona, a street urchin with a striking resemblance to the actress Pier Angeli — who, Jeffty reminds us, killed herself with an overdose of pills. The first thing Mona says to Jeffty is ”Change?” She’s begging for money, but the double meaning is soon clear. Jeffty recruits her for a scam that could turn his life around. The plotting is routine, but the writing is smart and edgy and even moving; if Richard Ford wrote genre fiction, it might read something like this. The only weaknesses result from unfortunate conformities to the noir formula and a digressive first act. Once Mona appears, however, Ridley has us hooked on his game.

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Mark Lindquist